Relationally Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (RFPT) is a post-graduate certificate program developed by Dr. Roy Barsness, Professor of Counseling Psychology, that “deepens a psychotherapist’s capacity to work directly within the therapeutic [relationship] as the primary instrument towards change.”

Matt Inman is a psychotherapist in private practice and a second-year student of the RFPT program. In an in-depth interview, Matt provides insight into his participation as a student in the program and the ways in which the experiential learning process and tight-knit community of clinicians has revitalized his practice and relationships.

What initially drew you to the Relationally Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (RFPT) post-graduate certificate?

It’s difficult for me to talk about the program in general without connecting it first to my attraction to it. The short answer is that I found myself 10 years removed from formal training and I was knee-deep in building a private practice and raising a young family. While I needed more training, I knew time was precious for me with little ones and I knew I wasn’t willing to throw $65,000 at a PhD or analytic certificate. RFPT checked that box of excellent depth work in a context that fit my world in Austin, Texas.

But there is always more to the story. I have always admired Dr. Roy Barsness. He brings his whole self to an analytic world that often wants to stay in the theoretical playgrounds of the mind. I found him each year to be a source of refreshment, bringing spontaneity and honesty when the moment called for it. It was all the stuff that my heart longed for in therapy as well as within family and friendships. And while I could find that on my own from time to time, I knew that my ego and the expectations of others often detracted from a truer way of being.

When we met up for coffee at a conference a few years back, Roy told me about the RFPT program and invited me to join. I knew instantaneously that I would join but I kept my cool for a bit longer. What truly got me was that he said the program was designed for seasoned therapists in private practice who both desire more training and need respite from the rigours of the therapeutic work.

Oh. My. Dear. Lord.

I can suppress with the best of them, shoving my true experience down to my ankles. But when I heard those particular words put together in just the right way, those words became hands that reached down and grabbed my heart. For the last twelve years I had done addiction work in Dallas, church planting in Hollywood, started a counseling center, a podcast, a magazine, and a private practice in Austin alongside starting a family. I was exhausted. And I was exhausted from contorting my life and schedule every which way to stave off the reality of exhaustion. Denial can get us pretty far down the road of burnout.

It was only in the quiet moments that I could admit that I was growing tired of contorting my life every which way to keep going. I had a deep desire to live vibrantly, both personally and professionally, and yet I was growing distant from myself and my patients. This all took the shape of boredom, rumination, untimely moments of anger with my kids, and a hopelessness so faint it was unnameable.

So you can imagine that I was all ears when Roy said that if we are exhausted, we are most likely doing the work wrong. Not wrong like we aren’t helping but wrong in the way that we aren’t really in the room ourselves. I didn’t go into the program expecting a miracle, but rather to come back into contact with myself and the work that had felt like a stranger for far too long.

What have you been surprised by in this relationally focused program?

I have really experienced a deepening of what I would have called depth. Haha! The floor really dropped out from under me in the first few case studies we processed in our small group cohort. There was so much more to what I was calling “connective” in the past. What I thought to be theoretically interesting or a possible re-enactment between myself and my patient was only the surface, and with the help of the instructors and group members, we almost certainly would find dynamics deeper and closer to me than I’d care to admit. It can be a bit disorienting—the unconscious, the growing awareness, the interplay between two people.

As I have sat week in and week out doing the work with fellow clinicians, I have not only grown to love and care for them but also to love and care for myself and my patients in new ways. My work has become much more engaging, I am more present with myself, and I can hold what I am experiencing confidently and with a loose grip.

The first year I saw myself become more enlivened at home and in my work. I still find myself exhausted, which is what I am working on as a second year student. I am finding that the more I am showing up, the more I am better able to set boundaries and work through conflict. RFPT is, in some ways, a conflict model that encourages you to not sit back and nod with “kind regards” but to locate yourself, show up and work through what is emerging precisely because you have taken up space. For someone fighting through self-doubt and people pleasing, you can imagine my struggle with such a process. But you can probably sit with it for a few more moments and anticipate my delight and earned resilience that comes from not only owning my own experience but truly walking with my patients through old haunts and new connections forged through authenticity.

How does the RFPT program compare to other continuing education opportunities you’ve been a part of as a therapist?

I have attended some really great workshops but most tend to engage the mind primarily. RFPT is the first continuing education program that reverses the order typical to learning models. Instead of learning the theory and then trying to experience it in case studies or role play, RFPT goes straight into consultations where the theory is played out and felt at visceral levels. It is only after we have felt it, experienced it that we begin to talk about it in any kind of theory or technique.

This is big for me because I can attend an all-day RFPT event and leave feeling like my brain doesn’t hurt. Rather, when I need to go for a walk it’s because I need to process my feelings and what the hell just happened! To me, this feels much more aligned with the relational work we all do in psychotherapy or any other helping profession.

Besides the training aspect, how has the program helped give some respite in the private practice world, particularly going through it during the pandemic?

I initially saw them as very separate things, the training and the respite. But it’s all about what Roy calls “locating yourself” and being able to “receive yourself” along the way. Receiving myself doesn’t mean I like all of me or that I am even ahead of my patients in every way but it does mean that I am able to see and am willing to work what is within me rather than live in a numbed state of denial. The more we deepened into the training program, the more I had to encounter my exhaustion, my aversion to setting boundaries for myself in fear of being “too rigid”, etc. And to do all of this with fellow clinicians who are doing the very same work becomes a salve to a profession that can make all of us more isolated and guarded than we’d care to admit.

It has been sad to not be able to meet in person like we did the first quarter of the process. We met off Bainbridge Island, a magical place I knew nothing about beforehand. We are dead set on meeting up in person before our program comes to an end in large part because our bonds have grown very close during the pandemic. It has kept me feeling connected to myself and the group during this complex time in which I feel a general malaise covering all my overwhelmed feelings.

This program has helped me come home to myself in new ways. When I find myself bored, distracted, or going down well-worn paths of fear, I have a better mind around what I may be experiencing and how to cue back in to the ‘here and now’ emerging right before me. It reminds me of a David Whyte line (Seattle folks should like that!), “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?… The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”

What might you tell a curious therapist about why they should consider RFPT?

I will shoot you straight. If any of my words have landed and you have felt their weight and impact, I strongly urge you to consider and talk with someone from the program. It is a rare thing to find a program out there that is both affordable and creates change that you’d expect from traditional graduate programs. Psychotherapy has the potential of bringing you closer to yourself or further away from yourself, and most of us need community and guidance to ensure the former.

If you are looking to grow as a clinician and don’t need more letters after your name, I can’t think of a better program. It fits into my busy schedule of 30+ patients a week and I’ve never doubted its worth monetarily. If you are wanting to extend your skill, hone your intuition, and be a part of a meaningful community, this is the program for you.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your experiences?

Wherever and however you come into this interview, I’d like to share a blessing by John O’Donohue that encapsulates my experience of therapeutic work that the RFPT program has helped re-energize. I hope these words can be true for me and you today.

A Blessing For Work by John O’Donohue

“May the light of your soul bless your work
With love and warmth of heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal
To those who work with you
And to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never exhaust you.

May it release wellsprings of refreshment,
Inspiration, and excitement.

May you never become lost in bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find hope in your heart,
Approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed,
Sheltered, and protected.

May your soul calm, console, and renew you.”

Learn more about the Relationally Focused Psychodynamic Therapy post-graduate certificate.

Matt Inman is a psychotherapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. He is also a second-year student of the Relationally Focused Psychodynamic Therapy post-graduate certificate. He is the host of Inefficiency Podcast, a show focused on going out of our way for that which we love the most. He also publishes Inefficiency Magazine, a journal that helps support the reflection, curiosity, and wisdom found in psychotherapy.